The Umbrella Academy
Netflix shows are designed, on some level, to be binge-watched. With that in mind, viewers should probably regard The Umbrella Academy as a ten-hour story — not a story composed of ten episodes. And that’s probably fine for anyone who plans to spend this weekend knocking out the first season of The Umbrella Academy. But if that’s not your plan, the unfortunate side effect of the Netflix binge-watch structure is a shaggy, shapeless episode like this one, which comes just as the show’s story should be ramping up, not flailing around.
Let’s start with the good. The episode’s most compelling story, by far, follows Five as he tries to crack the mystery about how and why the apocalypse is on the horizon. Part of the success here is that this blend of sci-fi, noir, and comedy — which plays like a blend of Minority Report and Inherent Vice — is a lot more compelling than everything surrounding it. Part of it is that 15-year-old Aidan Gallagher has the chops to play both the humor and the pathos of a 58-year-old, possibly insane man trapped in a kid’s body.
But mostly, I think it’s that the stakes in Five’s story are both very high and very clear. The entire world will come to an end if Five can’t Encyclopedia-Brown his way out of this problem, and he needs all the help he can get to fix it. Here, help comes in the form of his drug-addled brother Klaus, who storms into an office and causes a scene in an effort to help Five track down the owner of a mechanical eye. (Unfortunately, the owner can’t be identified because the mechanical eye hasn’t even been manufactured yet. Time travel, am I right?)
With the apocalypse ball kicked a little further down the road, “Run, Boy, Run” spends the rest of its time fleshing out other corners of the Umbrella Academy universe. Most significantly, we meet Hazel and Cha-Cha: Two suit-wearing, gun-toting assassins who are sent to find and kill Five after the failure of the hired goons in the diner. These two are grumpy and funny, but not exactly cuddly; in their zeal to find Five, they end up torturing and killing the innocent trucker who was mistaken for Five’s father in the diner.
At the end of the episode, Hazel and Ch-Cha find Five, who has tracked down the love of his life, Dolores. Dolores is a mannequin who was also Five’s only “companion” in the future, in a plot point clearly designed to make us question Five’s sanity. Despite firing many hundreds of bullets, Hazel and Cha-Cha fail to kill Five — but they don’t seem like the types to give up and go home.
Five isn’t the only Hargreeves child trying to wrap his head around the recent spate of crime. There’s also Diego, who checks in on police detective (and former flame) Eudora Patch as she investigates the diner massacre. Diego tries to convince Patch to fight crime by turning to vigilantism, as he did; she chides him for cutting corners in his zeal to put criminals behind bars. You’ve seen it all before.
Most disappointingly of all: After setting Vanya up as a quiet but steadfast ally for Five at the end of the premiere, Umbrella Academy immediately backs away from it. She begins to second-guess Five’s big apocalyptic revelation, and annoys him enough that he rolls his eyes and leaves. Vanya spends the rest of the episode gadding about on her own, doing a bunch of nothing. The biggest development in Vanya’s life is a violin lesson with a sweetly flirtatious new adult student named Leonard — who is probably a bad guy, because otherwise, what is this story doing here?
If there’s a lesson to be taken from Umbrella Academy’s somewhat disappointing sophomore episode, I think it’s this: If your show is about a whole family of superheroic misfits, you should spend most of your time with that family of superheroic misfits. We’ve barely met these weirdos, and there’s more than enough to unpack between them before we start worrying about their exes or their students or their beloved mannequins.
• Mysteries left to be answered at the end of this episode: What “priceless” information was in the secret diary Klaus threw away? And of course: What did Allison learn about her father from the surveillance footage?
• I like the production design of both Vanya and Diego’s crappy apartments. It’s a reminder that they grew up in fabulous wealth, but have lost it as adults — either because they were cut off from Hargreeves’s money or chose not to take it.
• I did not like the production design of the Meritech offices. Klaus’s whole plan hinges on convincing the security guard that the hapless employee Lance had brutally attacked them — but an open floor plan of glass cubicles means that somebody could have testified to the contrary.
• Another nice little character detail: Luther, on Earth, still choosing to eat those little pouches of space food.
• And a detail I don’t really understand but liked anyway: Before attacking Five, Hazel and Cha-Cha put on mascot-style animal masks for … reasons unknown? They have no reason to be worried about concealing their identities, and the masks clearly (1) don’t provide much armor and (2) make it harder for them to see. Whatever, it’s fun.
• You might recognize Cameron Britton, who plays Hazel, from his Emmy–nominated performance as serial killer Ed Kemper on Netflix’s own Mindhunter. You might recognize Mary J. Blige, who plays Cha-Cha, for being Mary J. Blige.
• Violating protocol, Hazel stashes a briefcase in the air duct at a motel, à la No Country for Old Men. I wonder if that will come back to haunt him?
• I didn’t like the fight scene set to “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” in the first episode, and I don’t like the fight scene set to “Don’t Stop Me Now” in this one. Among other problems, Shaun of the Dead already owns that song.
Want to know what’s new on Netflix? Check out Vulture’s streaming guide.